Discover more from Just the Facts with Gerald Posner
Some karma at last when it comes to the bones of Nazi Angel of Death Josef Mengele?
Some karma at last when it comes to the bones of Josef Mengele?
In June '85 Trisha was the first to answer the phone when it rang about 4:00AM. After 30 seconds or so she handed it toward me.
"Who is it?"
"Some German reporter. They say they found Mengele's bones."
It turned out that Brazilian police had announced a break in their investigation had led to the grave of the elusive Nazi doctor. In front of a horde of local reporters, and with forensics standards that made the OJ investigators seem brilliant, they exhumed bones from a plain wooden coffin in the tiny town of Embu, about 40 miles outside Sao Paola.
I told the reporter from Stern I was doubtful it was Mengele. He had faked his death before to throw off his pursuers. And the timing seemed suspicious given that the previous month, the U.S., Israel, and Germany and formed a task force to put the hunt for him into high gear.
The next day I was on a flight from NY. I was in the fourth year of researching Josef Mengele. My pro-bono lawsuit against Germany and the Mengele family on behalf of twin experiment victims from Auschwitz had failed the year before. TIME called my research on Mengele "the largest private archive" on the Angel of Death. And at the time the bones were found, I was deep into writing a biography of Mengele with a British co-author, John Ware.
But over the next couple of weeks, a team of leading international forensics experts concluded unanimously that the bones did indeed belong to Mengele (detailed medical information in his SS files helped with the ID, as did dental records later found with his Brazilian dentist).
Rolf Mengele, his only son, has repeatedly condemned what his father did at Auschwitz. Still, he protected him while he was a fugitive. Many of you know that in an appearance of Phil Donahue with me in 1986, you can see quite clearly the extent to which he is conflicted over his father's crimes and what his duty as a son was to do the right thing (http://buff.ly/1o7NvCc)
Rolf allowed John Ware and I to use his father's personal papers and diaries in our book without any compensation. And I gave part of the profits to Marc Berkowitz, the twin who had first led me to start on the pro bono quest. But Rolf refused to accept his father's remains and give them a burial. Over the years I had tried to encourage him to allow a film documentarian to follow him to Brazil and to retrieve those bones. Bury them, I urged him, and then travel to Auschwitz to see the place where your father had committed his crimes. Bring an end to it, at least for himself. But he had no interest in doing that, no desire to have anything more to do with his infamous father, even in death.
So Mengele's bones have remained unclaimed in a large blue plastic sack on a shelf in Sao Paolo's Police morgue. This month a Brazilian doctor involved in the original exhumation won the right in court to the bones. And in front of a national TV audience he opened the bag of bones. His intent? to donate Mengele's bones to student doctors for use in their own studies. As it says in this Daily Mail story: "Observers said there was at least a ‘modicum of satisfaction’ the infamous German physician, who performed hundreds of thousands of cruel experiments on adults and children, will now be experimented upon in death." (http://buff.ly/1o7NvCd)
BTW, the photo closeup of the skull was taken by friend Lowell Levine, the forensic odontologist from New York. My friend, David G. Marwell, then the chief historian at the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, will remember these events all too clearly. As will Trisha Posner, who lived with Mengele for five of the first six years we were a couple.